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Kazaa Being Upgraded by Sharman Networks

File-sharing: Changes would hinder attempts by labels and studios to introduce bogus versions of songs and films.

September 23, 2002|JON HEALEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In its first major upgrade, the Kazaa online file-sharing network is taking steps to blunt some of the tactics that record companies and Hollywood studios have used to deter Kazaa users from copying songs and movies.

Sharman Networks, a privately held firm based on the South Pacific island of Vanuatu that develops the Kazaa software, is expected to begin distributing a new version of the program today. The changes include a new set of protections against bogus or corrupted files and viruses.

File-sharing networks let users search for and copy files on one another's computers for free, typically without the permission of the copyright owner. In lawsuits against two early file-sharing systems, federal courts have ruled that this type of large-scale copying violates copyrights.

The major Hollywood studios, record companies and music publishers have sued Sharman Networks, along with the companies behind the Morpheus and Grokster networks, in federal court in Los Angeles, arguing that they contribute to the same kind of wholesale copyright infringement.

In addition to suing, some entertainment companies have tried to discourage piracy by flooding Kazaa and other file-sharing networks with bogus versions of popular songs and films.

The new version of Kazaa would undermine that practice by letting users rate the integrity of the files made available for copying, enabling the first people to download a file to vouch for its quality or declare it a spoof.

The upgrade also offers to scan for viruses when users sign on or download files, addressing another major concern among users. In addition, it rewards users who rate files and actively offer material for copying by enabling them to download popular songs, movies, games and software more rapidly than other users.

Like other file-sharing networks, Kazaa has added several features that don't involve copyright infringement, such as links to authorized downloads and a Web browser. The moves add weight to the companies' claims that their technology has substantial legitimate use, a potential defense in the lawsuit.

Spokeswoman Kelly Larabee said these improvements were in the works before Sharman Networks was sued, adding that the company is "fortifying the software because we believe we'll be victorious in the end." But Russell Frackman, a Los Angeles attorney representing the record companies against Sharman, said no amount of tweaking could save "a system that's infringing and is mostly used for infringing."

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